2020 has changed America as our country and the world at large are affected by a coronavirus pandemic.
Some of us fear the virus, but not all. The inability to trust and filter the information — misinformation we heard from the Trump administration, scientists, news media, social media, community leaders, churches and our neighbors — has left a nation exhausted and in need of a new path.
A 50-50 nation with two sides believing they are “right” will continue as it always has in America’s cultural war for the heart and soul of this country.
As we enter the holiday season, most of us have friends or family who have survived COVID-19 and a growing number of us sadly know the pain of loss. Communities and families are dealing with the chaos of schools that can’t open, jobs that have been furloughed or gone, bills unpaid, businesses closed forever as well as those that are struggling to survive.
This country’s culture war focuses on race, maintaining privilege status quo, economic inequality and immigration. Our country’s four-year dance with fascist authoritarian values permeating federal governance has been temporarily rebuked but, since close to 50 percent of the electorate on a national scale accepts those values, the fight to find the soul of America will be ongoing.
In King County, we may think we are insulated from the ultraconservative ideological warfare that is at the root of this nation’s systemic racism. However, hyper-progressivism is viewed skeptically as well. The hyper-progressives’ desire to defund rather than reform policing practices is a nonstarter. Better governance begins with listening and learning how to address fears and misgivings about one another in a positive but collaborative way.
Local governments across this country work best when they approach solutions pragmatically and non-idealistically as they meet their residents’ public safety, quality of life, health and education needs while assuring fair and equal access. Criminal and anti-social behaviors will continue and a positive community response is necessary. Reform will work, but it takes time. Reform also requires us to look inward and address why our society is prone to a seemingly constant level of criminal and anti-social behavior.
The 2020 situations being encountered on the local level are problems most elected local officials never anticipated encountering. They all know to balance the budget, assure public safety, public works, recreation, sanitation, education and multiple other services taken for granted as they continue battling the current homelessness crisis.
COVID-19 has altered every community’s ability to support quality of life activities, and they are now experiencing revenue declines due to businesses being on the brink of failing or gone. Adding to that mix is a potential eviction crisis when current moratoriums are not renewed.
Now that a newly elected president is on the horizon, seasonal temperatures and rain are the norm, the six months of marches, protests, backlash or opportunistic riots have begun to lessen. But the underlying root causes relating to race, Black Lives Matter concerns, policing practices and immigration issues are still present in every community. Regardless, COVID-19 remains the overshadowing crisis in the room.
George Floyd’s death in May of this year triggered a national conversation and year of unrest. Being Black or a person of color often means that the police may approach an encounter with you differently and vice versa. We need to think about the strife and protests that the manner of Mr. Floyd’s death initiated in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Portland, Minneapolis, Kenosha and many more. Just because you live in a city that did not experience the protests or more specifically the riots, it does not mean that your community does not have the underlying issues present that were catalysts for the protests, riots and clashes with police.
In an Aug. 2019 research article written by Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee, and Michael Esposito for the United States National Academy of Sciences, the authors state:
“Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Over the life course, about 1 in every 1,000 Black men can expect to be killed by police.”
Think about the what-ifs for a moment. Federal Way, Kent and Auburn have more in common with Kenosha, Wisconsin, than you may realize. Statistically these cities in South Puget Sound are similar in demographics, poverty and education to the City of Kenosha. They are 12 percent African American, 18 percent Latino, and have a poverty rate of 17 percent.
This year, Kenosha had a high-profile death of a person of color at the hands of police — and frustration, protests and riots ensued. The City of Auburn fired one of their police officers this year who managed to kill three civilians in a period of eight years. Auburn could have easily become protest, riot and media fodder.
Deaths occur every year at the hands of police and they disproportionately affect people of color. Behaviors and attitudes have to change. But the death of George Floyd, the efforts of a president to divide a nation as “he and his team” doing little to curb the pandemic, speaks volumes about where we are as a nation all the way down to our personal households. Each of us has to ask ourselves if we are going to be part of the solution or part of the problem.
Let 2021 be a fresh start with kindness at the core.
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at email@example.com.